Time Management Strategies for Creatives
Time management strategies for creatives are essential to long-lasting success in your career. Time management and creativity sound like strange bedfellows, but they are inextricably connected if you want to keep your relationships and your sanity. In truth, every creative person longs to achieve success, longevity and health. Yet few have the discipline to stay the course. The truth is this: if you want continued growth, development, and increased creativity throughout your career, without sacrificing your marriage, your relationships and your mental health, you must develop healthy habits. Among these healthy habits, it is necessary to learn and apply the key elements of time management.
There is a war inside you every time you have a creative idea and every time you start a creative project. There is an insidious idea whirling about in our minds about how creativity works. Twyla Tharp describes this idea in her book, The Creative Habit (amazon link). She writes of how it was born in the romantic era, when artists began to claim that all creative acts were born from the touch of some transcendent, mysterious divine being. The key was to be ‘touched’ by a divine muse. The problem with this view is it denigrates talent, training, and discipline. Twyla Tharp sharply denounces such ideas and has the resume to back her up. After winning countless awards, she had demonstrated the cold, hard truth – the real key is discipline and hard work! But that is not all.
Two things are inescapable for creatives who also seek to honor Christ. You must have a dedicated time to create, and you must also have a dedicated time to be a healthy, flourishing human being living in community. To sacrifice other relationships in the name of your artistic creativity or artistic ambitions is to fail at the very basic level of Christianity – to love your neighbor. You cannot love your neighbor, and neglect them for the sake of your art, and come to Christ with a clean conscience. You are not an island. God designed you to be in community. This is why time is so important, and why time management must be given priority if we are to honor God and create compelling and profound art.
Three Principles for Time Management for Creatives
1) Prioritize with Precision
All work/art is not created equal. There are tasks that are important, but there are also the tasks and projects that will generate the greatest return on your time. These are the items you must focus on, calendarize and protect. If you are going to create something exceptional, you will need to protect the time it takes for you to ‘get in the zone’, or develop new techniques, and choices. You may even want to schedule time to just ‘play.’ Deadlines are helpful, but ideas also need time to germinate and ruminate.
I remember when I recorded my CD years ago, one of the best pieces of advice was from a sound engineer who told me to budget 10% of my time to explore different ideas, microphones, sound effects, etc. It made a tremendous difference. Don’t leave out time to foster your own creativity and inspiration. Whatever your process is, prioritize your most important projects. I call them Lead Projects, because they are the ones that lead the way by creating momentum. If you don’t prioritize them, they won’t get done, or at least they will take far more time than they should. Remember, email will always be there. Little annoyances will persist. Prioritize, and stay focused.
3 Key Questions to Ask Yourself:
1) What projects, if completed this year, would make the biggest difference in your career?
2) What projects, if finished, would give you the greatest sense of accomplishment, confidence and encouragement to attack other projects?
3) What projects most closely align with what God has called you to do as his child, and a creative who longs to honor God?
2) Ritualize Important Habits
Your will power is not enough. It is a limited resource, so don’t overload your will power and your energy by creating dozens of individual, unrelated goals. One of the great books on this recently is Atomic Habits, by James Clear (amazon link). He makes a clear, well researched case that the greatest progress comes not through large changes, but through smaller changes in our habits and by ‘stacking habits.” The best example is starting with your morning rituals. For example, a healthy morning ritual might be – wakeup, make your bed, drink coffee, make breakfast, read your bible, get the kids set for school, and then write/paint/dance for 2 hours. If you did that every day for one week, how much easier would it be to do the same thing next week? The easier it is, the more likely you will continue to do it.
Positive Feedback is another great part of changing and ritualizing your habits. Seth Godin says, “the best way to change long term behavior is with short term feedback.” A clear example of this is keeping a calendar of your successes. For instance, if you want to write a great novel, simply schedule a couple hours each day for writing. Then, keep a visual record of how many days in a row you have been writing. This will provide a healthy feedback loop to encourage you, and help you see you are making progress. After several days in a row, you become motivated to keep your ‘winning streak’ going.
We are Wired for Feedback
God wired us to desire feedback. In the Bible this is often called a benediction. Just as we want a father in heaven who is pleased with us, we also want colleagues and members of our Christian community to be rejoicing over our successes along with us. Sometimes, our habits are so small, no one else will see those successes, and therefor you sit alone, in silence without the encouragement that helps you continue new habits. So create your own feedback to affirm your progress. This works with both your creative and spiritual goals. Keep a record of how many days you have a devotional, along with how many days you took the time allotted to create.
Even better, “stack” these two habits: Start with a devotional for ten minutes followed by 2 hours creating. Now they become one ‘ritual’, instead of two separate to-dos! Thus, your goal is not some abstract, massive, looming target of writing a masterpiece while having 365 devotions this year. Instead, your goal is to become a daily writer, having daily devotions – specific and easy. Then, each day you check the box for doing this ritual, you find encouragement in these new habits that lead to the success you long for!
3) Calendarize What You Care About
To-do lists were fine when we were young and had few obligations, but in today’s world they will not suffice. You cannot win the war when distractions of social media, streaming movies and cell phone notifications never cease to plead for attention. Your to-do list is no match. If you do not put your priorities on the calendar, and protect your time, realize that no one will protect it for you. Don’t let your inbox become your default to-do list either. Then it becomes everyone else’s agenda and plan for your life instead of yours or God’s plan (yep, I’ve fallen for that numerous times).
Put It on the Calendar
Next time you write a to-do list, acknowledge you aren’t finished until everything is on the calendar. Include your singular items along with regular habits and rituals you are developing. Put down your time to create, time to spend with your family, time to eat, and time to pray. If it isn’t on the calendar, it will be the first to be forgotten. Guard your heart and guard your time. Don’t let a week go by where you aren’t developing your craft, growing your audience, or investing in your spiritual health and your relationships. If you like digital tools, there are tons of resources out there, but don’t wait until you find the perfect solution. Start with what you have now, even if it is a paper calendar and a legal notepad. Develop the habits first, and adopt new software and apps later!
Once you begin to prioritize, calendarize, and ritualize your creative process, there are two ‘mindsets’ that are helpful to keep in mind.
Two Critical Mindsets for Time Management for Creatives
Mindset 1: Lean Toward Action
The great part of living in this century is the sheer volume of resources. But there is a catch: Too many choices can lead to a never ending decision process, because we waste too much time looking for the ‘perfect fit’ for our needs. Don’t get lost in the paralysis of analysis. If you want to increase the artwork you create/produce, you have to lean toward action. You can always pivot and iterate later. As the old adage in business goes, “you can’t steer a parked car.” So get moving, get in motion, and adapt as needed later on. Don’t waste too much time researching, assessing and procrastinating (sometime the endless research is a form of procrastinating).
Mindset 2: Avoid the Black Holes
What is the black hole in your weekly or daily rhythm? Everyone has them. There are apps and behaviors that seem innocuous enough, but they quickly become gateways into a black hole of time wasting.
Do you check in on your Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and other social media apps, only to realize an hour later it was a waste of time?
Do you check email first, and let the day be driven by a reaction to others?
Take an honest look at your time. The best way to do this is to take one week and journal how you spend your time. Account for everything from getting supplies and resources to talking to clients and patrons. How much time do you waste, and where? You still need breaks for coffee, fresh air and exercise, but notice what is life-giving to you and what has become mere distraction or excuse for not getting the most important projects done now.
We all fall into habits and patterns that steal our energy and time. Switch gears and start creating habits and approaches to life that will increase you productivity and help you grow spiritually at the same time.
Take the time to prioritize, calendarize, and ritualize your creative process, and your spiritual life.
When you start to fall into a rut, get distracted, or lose track of time, make sure to kill the opportunities to be sucked into those black holes and start leaning towards action. Do something to move forward, no matter how small, and start building inertia in the right directions. Don’t forget, God is with you. Lean on him and lean forward into action.
Copyright © 2021 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
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